400 years since Gosnold landed

AMERICA is celebrating a very special birthday this month - it's own 400th anniversary. As celebrations get underway on both sides of the Atlantic today, PAUL GEATER looks at what is happening in Virginia, and remembers why a Suffolk man plays a central role.

By Paul Geater

AMERICA is celebrating a very special birthday this month - it's own 400th anniversary. As celebrations get underway on both sides of the Atlantic today, PAUL GEATER looks at what is happening in Virginia, and remembers why a Suffolk man plays a central role.

WHEN English settlers founded the first permanent foothold in North American 400 years ago this year, the main vessel was captained by Suffolk sea captain Bartholomew Gosnold.

Today some hail him as the founding father of America - although his part in the foundation of the new colony of Virginia was overlooked for several centuries. Now however, his place in history is secure and as America and Britain unite to celebrate the foundation of the country over the next two weeks.

This week sees the start of ten days of celebrations at the Jamestown Settlement which is part of the city of Williamsburg, the original capital of Virginia.

It starts with a visit from The Queen and Prince Philip who arrive at Williamsburg today .

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They arrive in the town this evening and will be taken on a ride in a historic carriage, giving residents of Williamsburg the chance to see their famous guests.

Tomorrow they will attract worldwide attention when they go to the Jamestown settlement and the historic college of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

This visit is a repeat of a visit the royal couple made in 1957 during their first state visit to the USA.

On that occasion their trip was the centrepiece of Jamestown's 350th anniversary and they will be retracing their steps for a new generation of visitors and residents.

Next weekend the main festivities are due to take place at Jamestown, headed by President Bush. These will feature concerts and special events.

There are four distinct areas at Williamsburg. Historic Jamestown is the site where the first settlers landed and is the subject of ongoing archaeological work to find out more about this historic area.

The Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum where the original colony is recreated and visitors can see, hear and smell what life was like for the original settlers.

Anniversary Park is a large open space which is the focus for many of the events over the next 10 days.

All these are on the edge of Williamsburg, the original capital of Virginia, which is a town with a population of 12,000 - about the same size as Kesgrave.

The heart of Historic Williamsburg is a world heritage site, crammed full of historic buildings centred around the college of William and Mary which dates from 1693.


See tomorrow's Evening Star for details of special events in Suffolk to mark America's 400th birthday.

BARTHOLOMEW Gosnold became the centre of an academic spat between scientists a year ago after archaeologists in Jamestown thought they had discovered his skeleton.

Gosnold died from a fever shortly after arriving in Jamestown and before he could return home to Suffolk.

He was buried in the new colony and when a body thought to be his, scientists asked for permission to match that DNA with the DNA from a relative, Elizabeth Tilney Gosnold, buried at Shelley church near Hadleigh.

The tests proved the two people were not related. However American scientists are sure they have the skeleton of Gosnold and the bones in Shelley were of a different woman while British experts are doubtful whether Gosnold has been found and are sure they have the bones of his relative.

WILLIAMSBURG residents are looking forward to the royal visit - although they have concerns about the impact all the events will have on their community.

Rusty Carter, editor of the local newspaper, The Virginia Gazette, said the controversy about the discovery of Gosnold's skeleton had been followed with interest in Williamsburg.

He said: “People here are a bit split about the events. Most people are looking forward to welcoming the Royal couple and the President, but there are some who can't wait for all the fuss to die down and for life to return to normal.

“There is quite a bit of disruption, and it has been dominating our lives for the last few years - it should be a really good event for the area.”

He said people had followed all the twists and turns following the discovery of the skeleton - and were sure it was Gosnold.

“He wasn't someone that most people knew a great deal about until all this publicity blew up, but many have followed all that and now know all about him,” he said.

However Captain John Smith, an early explorer who took the Native American princess Pocahontas back to the Britain with him, remains a better-known figure in the area and there is a statue to him at Jamestown.

There were events celebrating the 400th anniversary throughout the year, including voyages in the replica vessels that are usually moored in the Jamestown Settlement.

“This area is very proud of its role in establishing the new country that went on to become the United States.

“But we are also very well aware of our links with England and the story behind the founding of this colony. Most of us are determined to enjoy celebrating this over the next few months,” he said.

All this month's events are centred around places named after English kings and queens.

Virginia was named by Sir Walter Raleigh in honour of Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.

Jamestown was named in 1607 in honour of her successor, King James I.

Williamsburg was named in 1699 in honour of King William III. The College of William and Mary dates from 1693, when his wife was still alive.